So You Think You Want To Write a Prison Pen Pal


Guidelines For Selecting The Right One

Writing to people in prison can be a controversial subject. I know. I wrote my first such letter back in 1975 as part of a program sponsored by my church. After a while (I’m a little ashamed to admit) my efforts kind of faded away until 1996, just before Pam and I met, when I ran an ad in a Reno, Nevada, newspaper and received responses from dozens of new friends.

Right about that time, I met my wife, Pam. She eventually joined me in communicating with the incarcerated. Correspondents have come and gone, but we have seldom been without a handful of letters to answer since.

We had a humor based website for a while, and although we did have a couple of prison humor pages published there, it did not seem the right place to let our reading public learn all we know about writing to prison pen pals. Even though we’ve become friends with inmates who still have a sense of humor, prison mostly is just not that funny.

For a longer period, nearly six years, this sort of information was included on a writing site (not my own). Finally, in August of 2013, I got my own solid, multi-topic writing site up and running the way I wanted it–and now the data can be found here. We lost a lot of good comments during the transfer, but the results should be worth it.

Now, back to the topic at hand.

Remember the “who-what-why-where-when” questions we were taught to ask? In this case the first question to ask ourselves is: Why do we want to do this? Are we looking at it as a kind of charity, befriending the friendless? Are we seeking a romantic relationship? Do we simply feel “safer” when we have what is literally a captive audience? Are we simply driven to do so, yet unable to figure out why?

The answer is important, because it will factor into figuring out who you are going to select, as well as what they have done to get behind bars, where they are located geographically, and when they expect to be released.

And believe us, your choice of selections is virtually endless.

Did you know there are code words for finding a cool cat correspondent?

Did you know there are code words for finding a cool cat correspondent?

Now It Is Time To Go Shopping For A New Friend

Once you have answered your own questions as listed above, it is time to see what is available in the prison pen pal pool. If you have not done this before, you are in for a shock: There are dozens of pen pal sites out there, hosting ads for thousands of incarcerated men and women looking for friends. In the USA alone, we have literally millions of people behind bars, and the numbers are rising constantly.

We recommend you hit the search engines (keyword “prison pen pals”) and “cruise” the sites a lot, just getting the feel of them. One suggestion: Pick a “free address” site for your first go-round. Some charge a few dollars per address. Some are free. The names of these sites will not be listed here, simply because they change over time. There is one site which used to be clearly fraudulent and would take your money (credit card data) without delivering a single address, ever. They didn’t steal your credit card data, but they didn’t fork over, either. Amazingly (new management, perhaps), that site is still around–and has “gone straight”. Their addresses are now completely free.

Next issue: Here are a few “code words and/or phrases” we’ve identified over the years. These do not always mean what the “code” indicates, but definitely often enough that we should pay attention to them:

1. “Generous”….seeking a friend who will give him/her money and presents, the more the better. Many of the lifers seeking to fool those of us on the outside will use this term.

2. “Legal Help”…seeking someone to hire a top lawyer to help prove their innocence, and to pay for that lawyer as well.

3. “Open Minded”…involved or at least curious about alternative lifestyles. If you are a straight, conservative Christian, you might not be comfortable with this person. Jesus might, but none of us are Jesus. On the other hand, if you’re a bit bi (or gay or transgender) yourself, this term is a plus.

Beyond that, it is a simple matter of common sense; the same rules you use to evaluate potential friendships on the outside apply–but feel free to ask questions.


2 thoughts on “So You Think You Want To Write a Prison Pen Pal

  1. I have found it easier to write to pen friends in USA, then in my own backyard of Scotland. There is not a clear cut way for me to access websites for pen friends/find info on potential pen friend unless I am south of the border, in England. There are websites set up for prisons in England and Wales.

  2. I’m not surprised, though I’ve never seriously considered writing pen pals outside of my native USA. We have so many inmates AND so many prison pen pal websites here, why wander? But I’ll bet a U.S. inmate who gets a letter from Scotland is thrilled!

    One of my stepdaughters is married to a Scottish national, but they met at work, out in the civilian world (Houston, TX, area).

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